Styles and stereotypes: The linguistic negotiation of identity among Laotian American youth

Mary Bucholtz

Abstract

The article examines how two Laotian American teenage girls in a multiracial California high school take divergent pathways through two contrasting stereotypes of Southeast Asian Americans: The model–minority nerd and the dangerous gangster. The two girls, both first-generation immigrants, each draw on contrasting linguistic and youth-cultural practices to align themselves to some degree with one of these stereotypes while distancing themselves from the other. The absence of an ethnically marked variety of Asian American English does not prevent the construction of Asian American identities; instead, speakers make use of locally available linguistic resources in their everyday speech practices, including African American Vernacular English and youth slang, to produce linguistic and cultural styles that position them partly inside and partly outside of the school’s binary black/white racial ideology. The article argues that linguistic resources need not be distinctive either between or within ethnic groups in order to produce social identities.

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